Three Android Smartphones Under $100

Motorola Defy (T-Mobile): Software and Apps

The Defy ships with Android 2.1 Éclair pre-installed and an update is on the way for it, but don’t pick up the Defy thinking it’s coming in the next couple of weeks. Even so, considering Motoblur is installed on top of Android, you won’t really notice the difference until you try to install an app like Google Voice Search, which has some features that are Android 2.2 only. Motorola is committed to Motoblur as an interface, and while we wouldn’t have a problem with that on other, more powerful handsets, the interface seems to drag the Defy down noticeably.

Scrolling through the list of installed apps and moving between home screens felt much slower than on other Android phones, and even some that we had on the side with slower processors, like the original Droid by Motorola, which doesn’t have Motoblur installed. The sluggishness persisted when trying to type on-screen using Swype (also pre-installed) and even though the Defy has a large 3.7" screen, all of the widgets that Motoblur adds to your home screens made it feel smaller than it is. Most users, upon picking up a Defy, will likely remove most of the widgets and turn some of those native features off, like Motorola’s included social networking app, and install their own favorites.

This is part of the issue with Motoblur: if you like and use it, then you're okay. But if you hate the app, Motorola doesn’t give you a way to turn it off, short of rooting your phone. The Defy also comes with an array of pre-installed apps, some of which you can remove and others you just can’t. Essentially, people who hate bloatware will inevitably dislike some of the choices that Motorola has made.

We had to activate a Motoblur account in order to use the device. This is an unnecessary barrier to entry for someone who wants to just hop in and start using their phone, but it does have some benefits. Motorola’s Phone Portal allows you to manage some aspects of your device via the Web and see SMS messages and edit your phone’s contacts on the Web. Still, it would have been nice to be able to select those features instead of being required to sign up as soon as we turned on the device.

Regardless of these gripes, once you have the UI out of the way, the Defy is a good performer. Light gaming with titles like Angry Birds and Jewellust were fast and responsive with minimal slowdowns. Watching Web video via the built-in YouTube app worked great, even over 3G. Flash video on the Defy was definitely sluggish, but Flash ads and interactive widgets loaded just fine. I wouldn’t do a lot of Flash gaming on the Defy and I would stick to Web video designed for the Web over Flash if possible, but it wasn’t a deal-breaker and performance was solid considering the phone’s specs.

Page loading tests on the Defy were some of the best in the roundup, with our test page loading in 17.4 seconds over 3G and 7.8 seconds over WiFi. The times were pretty good considering the JavaScript elements on the page designed to put some stress on the phone’s CPU near the end of the loading process and the Defy blew through them pretty quickly.

The Motorola Defy will likely turn off some power users because it lacks some basic features like hotspot functionality or carrier-provided tethering. Other power users will simply find their own ways to tether their phone or add apps that make up for what the phone doesn’t already provide and to strip away the things they don’t like, such as the Motoblur UI and pre-installed apps. Regardless, if you’re the type who needs a phone that won’t break the first time it slips out of your hands, the Defy is an excellent contender.

Its good looks and rugged build make it a great phone for people worried about a device they can give to a teenager without seeing it broken in a week, and the battery life is great for people more concerned with being able to place great-sounding calls without diving for a charger every night. Motoblur makes it a little more difficult to really make sense of the phone–which is the opposite of what it’s intended to do–but it’s not a deal-breaker. The Defy gets the essentials right: call quality, battery life, and build quality. The rest leaves a little to be desired.

Design: 4/5

Hardware Features: 4/5

Software Features: 3/5

Performance: 3/5

Price: 3/5

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  • dhvd79a
    What did I get out of this article? Mostly insulted. So the over 50 crowd who want good call quality, long battery life and realize that the optical quality of built in cameras is really not so great are the "less tech savvy" but the under 50 set who don't care about call quality or battery life and who are satisfied watching a HD movie on a 4 inch screen are tech savvy. Hilarious.
  • WarraWarra
    Yeah this is a bit weird.

    Title is wrong = Contract Android phones with default junk for under $100
    should be the title.
    For $100 for a contract I can get a iphone for free, yes we are not all limited to some small town called USA but limited to USA CA UK Australia HongKong for a contract phone or a unlocked phone.
    I know some people that does not travel are limited to some clown with a mobile tower in their small town backwaters USA.

    No person in their freaking right mind would be stupid enough to get a contract even in UK only 30% now are still stupid enough to get a contract phone as opposed to 1.5 years ago's data. Contracts are a thing of the past for many years already.

    As for value for money, if there is no slide out keyboard then you don't want a on screen keyboard as it is a major pain with a stylus or using your fingers on a 400x800 screen so why go for the slow pathetic less than 400x800 screen ?

    Why take the most pathetic specs on a phone if you can have 5mp camera and all the other functionality + stock exchange apps and weather apps as used by my 94 year old grandpa.
    The bigger screen for him is great as he can now see the text big and big numbers instead of crappy old phones + small buttons and difficult to read.
    Heck he skype's us over wifi at the airport on his phone instead of international calls and this by a 94year old grandpa with zero tech savvy skills. He used to work for the post office hello.

    The complaint about the motorola "not a fanboy here" have you heard about the 200 android modded versions for this phone / any phone / iPhoneDroid and unlock then replace the junk that comes in the box with your version of Android ??

    We do it with pc's, laptops, Apple products when you get it you format and only install what you need to get rid of the spyware / malware / bloatware or remove the junk from the manufacturer and place another OS on the hardware / dual boot on your phone junk in the box or what you want that works on your phone. (Touchwiz + android dual boot here)

    If you do not know about this then you have been living under a rock. Good effort with this article, next time just get serious and research and give alternatives as very few people will use this cheap phone with the junk it has on but end up modding it within 5 days of frustration.
  • halophoenix
    Hi guys!

    Thanks for your comments!

    @dhvd79a - I think we went to fairly strong lengths to chat with people for whom a smartphone would be a good option - people who are interested in the ability to manage appointments and a calendar but don't care about HD video, for example, or parents looking for a phone that will give their kids some of the features they want without breaking the bank. Both of those groups aren't limited by age, although some of the demographics point to the ages we gravitated towards in the piece. Still - it's clear you're not in that target group! Don't be insulted, you're just looking for something more powerful!

    @WarraWarra - You raise some great points, but I think that getting into the nitty gritty of rooting a phone and modding it yourself (even if it's something that you can grab a one-click app to do) is something that the vast majority of smartphone owners - and even Android owners - simply don't want to do. Add to the fact that if you ever need your wireless carrier's help or support in any way and you give them a modded or rooted phone, they'll tell you to go away, and you have a real issue - at least in the US - where people who are tech savvy enough to root their devices are people who are generally aware of the fact that they'll have to support themselves. Again, not the folks we're looking at here, and not the folks you would buy a phone like these for, right?

    I'm with you though - if I personally were looking for a smartphone, none of these would be an option. I need a much more powerful device for my own use! That said, I talked to a number of people in the research for this post that wanted to give their kids a phone they could text with that was "enough like an iPhone to make them happy," but didn't want to shell out for one. When presented with a $50 option that's a strong device with solid bang-for-the-buck, they loved the idea!

    To each their own! :)
  • Anonymous
    I have the Comet. The screen is not multitouch. At all. Though Froyo supports flash, you are barred from even installing adobe flash on this phone because of the processor. I was disappointed in this at first, but now I realize that even if you could install flash, the phone would simply choke on it. That said, videos that I've transcoded for the phone, and low-def videos on youtube (through the youtube app) don't stutter, but still are only merely passable in visual quality.

    Not a bad phone for me, a person who wanted an android device and the app-y goodness that comes with it, while not being tied into a contract. For $100, t-mobile will sell you 1000 minutes/texts that don't expire for a year, which is perfect for my meager usage. I don't need to be fleeced by a data plan because I'm generally blanketed in wifi connections.

    For the on-contract type of person, I'm not sure why you'd get this over an Android phone that was more full featured (processor, screen, etc.). The cost of the better phone is minuscule compared to the price of the plan (especially with data). Off-contract,however, this thing is a home run for me, as it will help me save $1000+ over the next year or two, when compared to what I was paying previously to use a crappy feature phone on-contract.
  • hellwig
    Nothing like more technically inclined people coming onto TomsGuide and getting angry about how the articles are geared at the average user. I would guess that 95% of the computers Dell ships out never get reformatted by the customer, ever. I'm guessing that over 99% of Android devices have never been rooted (including the 4 in my household). And talking about prices in Europe (when the prices quoted were obviously for U.S. carriers) is silly. Although Maybe Toms really should start labeling articles like this with some sort of tag for applicable region. After all, these are phones provided by U.S. carriers that may not be available everywhere. I've seen other reviews for things like Wireless routers and external harddrives that aren't available in the U.S., so its obviously not simply American bias.

    As for the article, how much memory does the Motorolla Defy come with? With 2GB usable storage, an 800MHz processor, and 840x480 resolution, its practically a G2 without the keyboard and tethering, imagine paying $200 on contract when a similar phone is available for $100.
  • halophoenix
    @Hellwig - the Defy comes with 2GB internal and T-Mobile ships it with a 2GB MicroSD card. The phone will accept an up to 32GB MicroSD card, so there's plenty of room to upgrade. Good point on the similarities to the G2 - it's a little trimmer since the G2 comes with 4GB internal I believe, but that (aside from the keyboard and the stock version of Android as opposed to MotoBlur on the Defy) might be where the differences end!

    Great points on everything else too - I think you're right - a lot of people, especially the tech-savvy, evangelize rooting any Android phone they see, but for most people it's just not necessary. And for some people - especially some of the target buyers we discussed in this piece - rooting and tweaking isn't up their alley. Simplicity, affordability, and - perhaps most importantly - carrier support are paramount.
  • spam123
    The SPAM on Tom's is rediculous now. Get some decent CAPTCHA and account verification controls on your login. Then start banning accounts. This is 2011 now, Why are your running a tech site like 2001?
  • Anonymous
    I agree with SPAM123, personally id like the FACEBOOK CONNECT login option as its quick and painless and im 10 times more likely to post/participate where this is available
  • pinkfloydminnesota
    NewEgg has the MyTouch 4G for $80, a Droid 2 or X at $50, a Droid Incredible for free!

    It has the phones you list for much less than you state. Why do you limit your options to buying from carriers? Don't you believe in capitalism?
  • Anonymous
    "Sadly, the device doesn’t have mobile hotspot or tethering options."

    I am doing both mobile hotspot and tethering options on my unrooted Tmobile comet. Its under wireless and network settings... Tehetering and portable Hotspot.

    Additionally, the phone does support the same 4G bands that the Mytouch does.....